In a victory for the striking Muthoot Finance employees, the Kerala High Court on Thursday took cognizance of the ineffectiveness of the conciliation meetings between the Muthoot Finance management and the Centre of India Trade Unions (CITU) backed employees’ union Non-Banking and Private Finance Employees Association (NBPFEA). The High Court has noted the absence of competent representatives from the management’s end, saying that it is “making the whole conciliation proceeding a mockery”.
Having said that, the court has initiated another settlement process and appointed an observer who will also act as a mediator. The first conciliation meeting to be held on September 28. The High Court also notes in its judgment that “in all the meetings so far conducted, [the] Chairman and Managing Director [of Muthoot Finance] purposefully refused to attend.”
The judgment came at a time when the Muthoot Group’s disinterest in addressing the labour unrest had become apparent; the group chose to blame the state’s political fallout. Well over 2,000 Muthoot Finance employees in Kerala have been on a strike since August 20 demanding union recognition and formulation of a salary structure.
Also Read: Muthoot Finance Employees Continue Their Fight
Talking to NewsClick, Advocate Krishnamurthy, a senior lawyer in the Kerala High Court who is also representing NBPFEA, said that the management was from the very start wriggling out of its responsibility to settle the labour issues. “The Muthoot’s management was intentionally delaying the process by not sending competent representatives to the meetings,” he said.
The several conciliation meetings were convened by the state’s Labour Commissioner, inviting representations from both the sides – Chairman and Managing Director of the Muthoot Finance Ltd. and General Secretary of the union – and the last meeting was scheduled on September 25. However, with the Chairman and the Managing Director both refusing to attend the proceedings, the dispute remained as earlier.
Krishnamurthy said, “The High Court has noted that the representatives of the management were unable to agree to any terms, since they would have to fall back upon their top management for concrete acceptance of any proposal.” The top management by not attending the conciliation meetings is clearly trying to pressurise the employees of Muthoot Finance to withdraw the strike, he added.
Also Read: This Is A Fight for Our Labour Rights, Say Striking Employees of Muthoot Finance
The indefinite strike which entered its 39th day on Friday has been marked with victimisation against the union members and a media trial of the struggle of the Muthoot Finance employees.
On September 9, the gold financing giant threatened to wind up 300 of its Kerala branches in response to the strike. Outlook reported the Muthoot Group to be having little incentive to budge as Kerala only accounts for less than five of its business growth
“The employees were forced to go on the strike due to the prevailing anti-labour policies,” Thomas K J, State Vice President of Muthoot Finance Employees’ Union (MFEU), told NewsClick, adding that, “it is now them only, who are bearing the brunt of the strike.”
Ratheesh, General Secretary of the union, had earlier told NewsClick that salaries for the month of August have not been disbursed yet, which leaves a big question mark over the September salaries as well, as the month is nearing its end. According to him, non-disbursal of the salaries is making it hard for the employees to keep up with their financial needs.
Also Read: Victimisation, Media Trial and Struggle of Muthoot Finance Employees
The salaries were at the heart of the strike as well. According to the employees, the country’s largest gold funding corporate (in terms of loan portfolio) has been offering meagre salaries to its employees. To address this, the employees decided to unionise and an indefinite strike was observed in 2016 as well, which lasted for 17 days. Though assurances were given at the time, the Muthoot employees have complained that over the years the management has dishonoured the commitments previously made. “As the Kerala High Court also sided with the labour struggle of the employees now, we are hopeful that a settlement will be reached tomorrow,” Thomas added.
Newsclick also contacted Muthoot Finance DGM (Communications) Babu John, who declined to offer any comments.